Armistead Maupin, the writer best-known for his best-selling, six-volume Tales of the City series, served as an officer in the U.S. Navy after graduating from the University of North Carolina. That service included a tour of River Patrol Force duty in the Vietnam War.
Years ago, I attended a reading Maupin gave in Seattle. I asked him afterward if he had any plans to write a memoir dealing with his Navy service. Maupin said something about how long ago and far away the Vietnam War was, and that he thought it unlikely he would ever do that.
I encouraged him to write that memoir and told him how rare it was for a professional writer to write his own life story. He muttered something about how he didn’t think he remembered enough detail to write that book.
The good news is that Maupin has just written that memoir, a Logical Family: A Memoir (Harper, 304 pp., $27.99, hardcover; $26.36, paper; $14.99, Kindle). It is a wonderful piece of work, that’s just as warm, witty, and personal as his novels and journalism. Maupin tells us he joined the Navy to make his conservative father proud of him. He goes on to reveal a lot of fascinating detail about his naval duties, during which he hobnobbed with officers at the top of the Navy hierarchy—a mighty contrast to how most of the other men of his age (24-25) spent their Vietnam War tours.
In this book, Maupin mentions John Wayne a couple of times, and Joan Baez and Leadbelly in passing. The tragedy of Agent Orange gets some important space. Maupin writes that he missed the Vietnam War so much that he chose to return there as a civilian to work on a housing unit for disabled South Vietnamese naval veterans. Mostly this was a propaganda effort.
Maupin is one of America’s greatest story tellers and this book is jam-packed with stories, many of them indiscreet and some of them downright ribald. Warning: Some of Maupin’s tales are sad and will provoke tears. But that is as it should be when a master story teller brings his genius to bear on his life and on the Vietnam War.
Maupin has spoiled me for reading homemade memoirs by veterans whose sincerity is no substitute for talent and skill.